Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Early thoughts about Guinea

The recent coup in Guinea following Lansana Conte's death earlier in the week has been as poorly reported in the western media as I expected it to be, so I've done a bit of trawling around and communicated with a journalist friend of mine based next door in Sierra Leone, because on a personal level, I was pretty worried about this one.

The risk that the whole region surrounding Guinea could well be impacted by any potential trouble there is, in my opinion, a well founded one. So it's pretty important for an area that has only recently experienced fighting (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau in particular) that it doesn't happen.

The military, under Moussa Camara and the National Council for Democracy and Development have taken control of the country and ousted the ministers that served under the 24 year and seemingly less than democratic rule of Conte. Yes there is a curfew, and yes there will be tanks on the streets. I'm no specialist on these things, but I think it's fairly reasonable to assume that these are fairly sensible measures for a poor and vastly underdeveloped country that's just come out of 24 years under what amounted to a dictator, in a region with a recent history of terrible, terrible violence. Simply to maintain law and order in such an uncertain transition period, these measures are probably necessary. There are however, reports of civilian involvement in the new ruling council and of involvement in particular with the trade unions. Not to forget of course, that the word on the street, as I have heard it, is that the people are pretty happy about all this too.

Camara has promised democratic elections for late in 2010 (in which he says, he will not be standing himself) and strong measures to stamp out corruption. Now, I'm not so sure that to be punished by execution for corruption is something I would advocate for and neither am I entirely sure that waiting two years for elections is a reasonable time length either.
However, the speediness of the UK, EU, US and African Union (with the exception to date of Senegal's President Wade) to condemn the coup is in my mind, one of the more worrying things about the whole scenario.

Democracy doesn't come easily to countries who have not experienced it. Why should it? It's not a commodity, something that can be branded across a nation overnight. Having free and fair elections is not just about people being able to turn up and mark their crosses on a piece of paper without intimidation or fear of interference. It's also about candidates and parties having the resources and the opportunities to develop policies and present them to people and to give them a choice. Elections are not easy to organise at the best of times. Take a country with limited infrastructure and resources and where opposition parties have been intimidated, banned and whatever else for a number of years and it must be a logistical nightmare.

The International community wish for a return to civilian rule and elections in the early part of 2009. That looks a lot to me like they want to get their candidate in quick before anyone else has the chance to get themselves sorted out and, God forbid, the people of Guinea actually get chance to have a think and a say about what they want.

There are certainly strong reasons that say the coup is not a good direction for Guinea. It remains a worry and there is still a threat to the security of Guinea and of the whole Mano River region. It's definitely one I will be keeping an eye on, whilst being naive and reasonably hopeful that this is one country that will find free and fair elections at its own pace, without the bloodshed or destruction that its neighbours saw.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece. Mugabe, Museveni and a whole host of other African leaders have come in on an anti corruption ticket, promising reform and quoting marxist ideology (Mugabe still does)... decades later they're still in power and hob nobbing with the West (Mugabe exluded) that once condemned them. Should the general decide to change his mind he will be in good company.

03 January, 2009 10:09  

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